Sample Literature Critical Thinking Paper on Democratic Vistas – Walt Whitman

The American political culture is identified by various core ideals and values. Despite the Americans having different views, the vast majority embrace the general values of democracy, equality, liberty, individualism, and unity and diversity. America strives to find the best ways of achieving these ideals. Despite the efforts, however, the late Walt Whitman, an American essayist, poet, and journalist, opines that America still has a long way to go regarding its culture and values. His article, Democratic Vistas (1871), is an uncompromising and comprehensive indictment of the American politics, culture, and values. He provides an unflinching assessment of the “rotten” society and states that a new form of literature is the only means to achieve a distinct culture defined by real democracy. Through a fascinating utilization of literary stylistic traits like repetition and use of extended lines, Whitman paints a culture whose values and idealsstill thrive and his considerations are applicable to the present society.

Whitman begins his work by accusing America of cheerfully clinging on the past ways including feudalism and filling the present with problems. The experiment of democracy, he says, has yielded free political institutions and overwhelming intellectual smartness. These advantages, however, combined with an unprecedented rise of materialism, have made the society “canker’d, crude, superstitious, and rotten” (Whitman). The new world democracy, despite improving people’s lives through materialistic development and “highly deceptive superficial popular intellectuality”, has failed to play its social role (Whitman). The author explains that the society lacks the element of moral conscience. There are no “beautiful manners”, no reserved youths and majestic old people, no arts worthy of freedom, and no moral religious civilization. The atmosphere is saturated in sexual lust, unhealthy forms of males and females who are padded, pained, or dyed, beauty misconceptions, bad blood, and other mean manners. To rid the society of these “lamentable conditions”, Whitman contends that a new form of literature is needed. The real literature, as he termed it, is the literature underlying life and religion and is consistent with science. The new literature should be designed to manage the challenges of competent power through teaching men and redeeming the female race to create a new breed of perfect mothers. He gives an example of an American woman who works as a house-keeper. The woman is contended and is in good health, and that she is able to support her parents and siblings. Whitman also gives an example of another woman, a mechanic’s wife who is complacent with being a housewife and still regains her charm of the womanly nature. He points out that “democracy can never prove itself cavil” until it establishes its own forms of poems, art, religion, and academic institutions to displace the past traditions.

Democratic Vistas presents a range of stylistic choices, from use of exotic words, enumerations, and anaphora. Whitman’s work portrays his choice of exotic words used in grammatically fascinating manner alongside Standard English words. He uses words like sacerdotal, literatus, and superciliousness. The most dominant stylistic trait isenumerations: he uses expansive sentences that are broken into many clauses, which are separated by commas and each clause has different details. He uses broken clauses to indicate that all mentioned items are of equal importance and no details are weightier than the others. For instance, when proposing a solution to the rotten society, he says,

“Of all this, and these lamentable conditions, to breathe into them the breath recuperative of sane and heroic life, I say a new founded literature, not merely to copy and reflect existing surfaces, or pander to what is called taste — not only to amuse, pass away time, celebrate the beautiful, the refined, the past, or exhibit technical, rhythmic, or grammatical dexterity — but a literature underlying life, religious, consistent with science, handling the elements and forces with competent power, teaching and training men — and, as perhaps the most precious of its results, achieving the entire redemption of woman out of these incredible holds and webs of silliness, millinery, and every kind of dyspeptic depletion — and thus insuring to the States a strong and sweet Female Race, a race of perfect Mothers — is what is needed.”(Whitman)

The above structure of sentences is consistent throughout Democratic Vistas. As a poet, Whitman did not hesitate to utilize repetition in his piece. The repetition technique used in Democratic Vistas is anaphora, a technique where the words at the beginning of lines are repeated. In the following example, the phrase “in vain” has been used twice at the beginning of the sentences.

In vain do we march with unprecedented strides to empire so colossal, outlying the antique, beyond Alexander’s, beyond the proudest sway of Rome. In vain have we annex’d Texas, California, Alaska, and reach north for Canada and south for Cuba (Whitman).

These traits demonstrate the writer’s innovative experiment with words and a dynamic verbal style.

Democratic Vistas also displays a strong emphasis on elements of democracy and individualism. Whitman has exhibited an innate passion and advocacy for democracy in all his writings. In the current piece of literature, he comprehensively criticizes America’s democracy by citing its social failure. The business classes of America, as well as all the national, state, and municipal departments, are alarmingly corrupt, except the judiciary. He emphasizes that democracy is beyond elections, politics, and a party name. The democracy that Whitman desires should be achieved by developing new school systems, writing new poems, and a new form of theology, which will eradicate the old traditions. The new form of literature, according to the author, is the only ticket to the new American democracy. He supports his reasoning by explaining that literature “gives hue to all, shapes aggregates and individuals, and, after subtle ways, with irresistible power, constructs, sustains, demolishes at will” (Whitman). Democratic Vistas also promotes the importance of the individual self because, to him, every individual is beautiful and all voices carry the same weight in a single democracy. He views the society with egalitarian lenses: whether male or female, rural or urban, rich or poor, educated or uneducated. To Whitman, no one is invisible. For instance, he talks about women, one who is a house wife, the other working as a house help in a city, and the last one working in a male dominated field. Despite these women having different jobs or being at different settings, Whitman views all of them equally. These themes represent the author’s values and ideals. His portrayal of all individuals as equal illustrates his respect for humanity and the appreciation of diversity.

Whitman’s harsh criticism of the society, although written in the 19th century, still applies in the 21st century society. While assessing the society, the talented writer says that the United States has become a breeding point for hypocrisy, an atmosphere where people do not believe in each other, with scornfully arrogant litterateurs who only aim at having fun, and a lot of churches and sects spreading fake religion. He also mentions corruption in the government and in business, as well as the unprecedented advancement of materialism and the cheerful embracement of vulgarity. The U.S is currently plagued by corruption, which has grown its roots in the government, schools, hospitals, churches, financial institutions, industries, and the community. Wealthy persons with a great governmental influence manipulate activities in government offices, for-profit companies, and the U.S financial system (Transparency International). A 2017 study by Transparency International revealed that the U.S government and other major institutions barely trust the citizens. 44% of Americans were convinced that corruption is prevalent in the White House, 7 out of 10 citizens cited the government’s failure to curb corruption, and approximately a third of African-Americans believed that the police are corrupt (Transparency International). Fear of retaliation was also reported as a concern for reporting corruption in the U.S. The household names in the financial industry such as JPMorgan and Wells Fargo have been caught up in a web of scandals for fraud and corruption. In his article, Is JPMorgan Chase America’s Most Corrupt Bank?, Kotlikoff talks about the corruption accusations of the institution.Besides corruption, today’s society is also defined by unprecedented cases of crime, terrorism, divorces, and secularism among other elements that would be considered negative. As Whitman suggests, only a refined form of literature would eradicate this culture to regain soberness, trust, honestly, and spirituality.

Whitman’s Democratic Vistas is a representation ofa rich mastery of literary style and a deep understanding of the society. His work features stylistic traits like repetition (anaphora), use of exotic words, and an extensive utilization of expansive sentences. The writings portray his identity as a vocal advocate for democracy and individualism too. Whitman’s assessment of the society is not only meticulous but also true because the issues he talks about are evident even in today’s society. A new form of literature would help to spread a new culture, which will be free of corruption, divorce, lust for money, terrorism, and sexual crime among other “rotten” manners.

Works Cited

Kottlikoff, Laurence. “Is JPMorgan Chase America’s Most Corrupt Bank?” Forbes. 18 March 2016. 29 Jan. 2019

Transparency International. “Corruption In the USA: The Difference a Year Makes”. Transparency International. 12 Dec. 2017. 29 Jan 2019

Whitman, Walt. Democratic Vistas. 1871. 29 Jan. 2019.